Behind the Scenes of “In Search of the Magma Heart”

Today’s the launch day for Bingeworthy: Havok Season Three! My newest flash fiction story, “In Search of the Magma Heart” is available exclusively in this collection, so I wanted to share a brief post about how it came together.

As a volunteer for Havok, I had the option to write a story for the anthology as long as it matched one of the season’s themes. The “Bingeworthy” season themes were all based on story tropes like Dynamic Duos and Answering the Call. I thought it would be fun to try to pack as many as possible into one story, but ultimately submitted it under the One Thing theme.

And having fun with the story was really the driving idea. Even though I wasn’t planning on submitting to Havok’s Wacky Wednesday genre, I wanted to write something that would make me and readers laugh. When I wrote the first draft of this story, it had been quite a while since I had finished a fiction project. So my goal was just to enjoy the process, and that meant a heavy dose of humor.

That meant starting with developing a funny premise. As I brainstormed, I thought it would be fun to focus on a reluctant hero—who makes no attempt to hide said reluctance. I also decided to create another character so the two of them could banter on their adventure, but it also worked to make her the one who invited him along in the first place.

Of course, the funniest thing that can happen to a reluctant hero is drawing them even deeper into the quest they want to escape. So from the very beginning of plotting, I wanted something to happen to the main character that would keep him from going back. If you’ve read the story, you know this definitely happens.

With this goal/ending in mind, writing the story was a matter of maintaining forward movement while sprinkling in bits of humor. I may have mentioned this in previous posts, but I think one of the best sources of comedy in fantasy is juxtaposing fantastic elements with more modern/mundane sensibilities. This is why one character is named Maelys (a real, albeit uncommon name) and the other is named Tom (which you may know a few of).

I think the most prominent example of this occurs in the first two paragraphs. The first paragraph is supposed to read like an epic, action-packed opening promising a heroic fantasy story. Then the story “cuts” to her friend panicking on a rock surrounded by lava. I think the gambit pays off, giving readers an idea of what to expect for the rest of the story.

Of course, by design, that juxtaposition gets somewhat inverted at the end. (Spoilers ahead.) I tried to write Tom’s rock collecting as another bit of comedy—kind of a jokey side note explaining why he agreed to this adventure in the first place. But at the very end, that hobby has a very serious ramification. As I wrote the story, I tried to balance the humor with foreshadowing, and I think the final version leans slightly toward the latter. It’ll be interesting to hear how readers react to the story, and whether they paid special attention to the rock collecting at the beginning or if they thought it was just a funny anecdote.

Regarding the ending, when I was writing the first draft of the story, I tried to fit in  a little more action to amp up the climax. In this early version, the cavern was home to a serpent that attacked the duo when Tom grabbed the wrong gem. Maelys battled the guardian while Tom ran around being useless. It was a funny idea, but it also would’ve used up a lot of words.

I knew that if I wanted to show this scene, I’d need to trim the tunnel scene. But that walk through the darkness had so much good humor and banter (even more so in the first draft), that I didn’t have the heart to trim it. In my opinion, those elements matched the heart of the story more than a big fight (even if said fight did include one character running around). I was willing to sacrifice the action, but I like to think that there’s an alternate timeline with a >1000 word story that has both bits.

But since we can’t currently access that timeline, I thought it might be fun to share a deleted scene of sorts. When I realized the fight would take too many words, I tried trimming the serpent’s part down to a very brief appearance. This section was still too long, so I cut the snake entirely, unceremoniously sentencing it to a forgotten draft on my computer. Until now.

Tom nodded. “Alright, cool. So we just pick the right one of these orbs and you can be on your merry old quest.”

“I guess so.”

“Great.” Tom strode toward the closest gem, arm outstretched. “Now we just need to figure out which one it is.”

Maelys started saying, “I wouldn—”

Tom grabbed the gem, and a hissing sound reverberated through the cavern.

The teenagers locked eyes then looked up. An enormous, ebony snake slithered between stalactites.

“You are kidding me!” screamed Tom.

The snake launched itself at the boy before finding itself suddenly impaled by Maelys’s spear. It thudded to the ground, then shot the swordmaiden an indignant look before crumbling to dust.

With that, I’ll conclude this behind the scenes look at “In Search of the Magma Heart!” You can find it and 45 other great flash fiction stories in Bingeworthy: Havok Season Three, available now. Thank you for reading!

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